Beyond The Treaty

By Ross N Himona


(article published in “The Republican”, December 1992)


In recent years the Treaty of Waitangi has occupied centre stage in the struggle by Maori for social justice, equality and a measure of self determination. The work of the Waitangi Tribunal has paved the way for new interpretations of the relationship between the Maori of Aotearoa and the nation state New Zealand. Legal actions against the Crown have forced the judiciary and Government to re-examine their previously comfortable mindset.


On the surface these gains have been momentous.


But the Treaty has also been used by the political and economic elites of Maoridom to entrench themselves even further into Government guaranteed positions of power. The concepts expressed in the Treaty have been used by them to lever public resources into their own control. Graham Latimer is the obvious example, using his positions in the National Party, NZ Maori Council, Aotearoa Fisheries Ltd, Maori International Ltd and the Tai Tokerau Maori Trust Board as springboards into whatever deal is going down.


Latimer’s network of compliant and ill-informed  Maori Council delegates spread throughout the country is always ready to deliver him a contrived "iwi mandate". Ranginui Walker and the Auckland District Maori Council are notable exceptions. There are others.


Robert Mahuta has similarly leveraged power through the Tainui Maori Trust Board, Waikato University, Maori Development Corporation and Taharoa Incorporation. Tipene O’Regan has turned his chairmanship of the Ngai Tahu Maori Trust Board, via the Maori Fisheries Commission, into a very powerful personal base; in Maori terms. Apirana Mahuika of Te Runanga O Ngati Porou has reached for political power through the National Maori Congress. Congress also seems determined to build some sort of Government sponsored economic base for those who sit at the top.


Matiu Rata is always there but always broke. Both political and economic power seem to elude him. Kara Puketapu keeps trying but his career as Chief Executive of Maori International Ltd has been a series of spectacular nearly made-its. He has tried and failed to gain control of the NZ Maori Arts & Crafts Institute, Te Kohanga Reo, Iwi Transition Agency and Maori Congress. His commercial ventures as Taima Fisheries and Te Maori Lodges (Quality Inn) have gone nowhere. Graham Latimer, his partner in some of those ventures, seems unaffected.


There are many others following behind, picking up the crumbs, and waiting for their turn at the top.


This empire building is founded on the convenient premise that only through control of significant sectors of the economy will Maoridom advance politically and socially. It is an adaptation of the trickle down and around and about theory espoused by Business Roundtable ideologues and their captive politicians. The end result is the same, the transfer of public resources into private control. And for the down and around and abouts, their share is coming next year; or the year after perhaps.


The struggle of the many for social justice and equality carries on without significant funding and without significant success. It is mostly a women’s struggle, by the powerless for the powerless. The Treaty of Waitangi has not delivered for them.


And it is not the Treaty of Waitangi that has produced an explosion of artistic expression within Maoridom. Maori artists and writers, freed by years of activism and re-education from the constrictions of the European cultural paradigm, have burst into flower. The kapahaka or concert groups, Maori dance groups, Maori theatre, Maori painters, sculptors, poets, story tellers, carvers and weavers, Maori newspapers and Maori radio are carrying the message of liberation, self expression and self determination to the people.


Along with the voices of poverty and desperation, this is the true voice of the people; a voice you will never hear from the mainstream media. It speaks of poverty and of desperation, but it also speaks of hope and of freedom. In the mainstream media you will only hear about fisheries and land, full and final settlements, and of Maori businessmen politicians.


Underlying this resurgence of Maori expression is a re-discovery of ancient Maori forms and values. I have recently been privileged to work with a tohunga whakairo or master carver, helping him to design a framework for Maori Carving qualifications, from the basics right through to post graduate level. All our work has been based on traditional Maori values and concepts.


You might be tempted to think that wood carving is a fairly mundane craft. But in the Maori world the master carver is not just an artist and craftsman. He is the repository of ancient knowledge, and he is story teller and teacher. In his carving he depicts the great myths and histories of our people through which we learn the fundamental philosophies and values of our culture. Through his use of ancient and powerful symbolism he transmits those philosophies and values into the consciousness of the people. It is truly high art.


From my friend the master carver I have learned of philosophy, cosmology, mythology, symbolism, genealogy and history, ethics, aesthetics, science, environmental values, art history, of literature and music, and of spirituality. I have learned about architecture, carving, weaving, design, drawing, and painting. It has been an uplifting experience to re-discover an intellectual tradition at least as exacting as its official European counterpart.


I felt as though we were finally liberating our Maori intellectual heritage from decades of oppression. Is this part of the revolution we have long awaited? I think it is.